Batman and the immorality of using a dead man to hype a movie

The hype is ferocious, perfectly orchestrated, and nigh-on irresistible. The suits predict the film will take £50 million in its opening weekend and break the £200 million barrier in due course.
Indeed, the bar has been set so high that anything less will be downright alarming.
At midnight last night, the stampede began when 1,700 sold-out cinemas were the first to show The Dark Knight to the public in the U.S. It premieres here on Monday before opening next Friday.
The Dark Knight
Tragedy: Actor Heath Ledger delivers a powerful performance in his role as The Joker in The Dark Knight
Analysts say more excitement has been generated than for any film in recent years since The Lord Of The Rings  -  cinemas report that bookings and inquiries are at a record high.
And the new Batman film is, for better or worse, being marketed almost entirely on the strength of the performance of the late Heath Ledger.
It is his face that has been painted on hoardings across the globe: the Joker looms on a giant billboard over Sunset Strip in Hollywood, and is plastered across London buses. He is the villain and yet the hero  -  Batman barely gets a look-in.
To sell the film so hard on the Joker might be considered ghoulish. Is it not in questionable taste, after all, to be pushing the film primarily on the talents of a young man who, according to gossip, found the experience of playing the role exceedingly disturbing, and was found dead shortly after filming was completed?
Following Ledger's accidental drug overdose death in January, producers Warner Bros certainly had a headache.
The panic was such that their first meeting on the subject took place on January 31, nine days after his death.
The initial thinking was that they would try to evade the Ledger issue and entirely redraw their £30 million marketing campaign to concentrate on Batman and on the other villain of the film, Two-Face.
But after a great deal of debate and, the Mail has learned, consultation with Ledger's family, the decision was made to sell the film on the Joker rather than on the Caped Crusader.
Darrk Knight
Last laugh?: The Dark Knight is being promoted as The Joker's film
And so it is Ledger's leering features, smeared with make up, which dominate the posters advertising the film, and Ledger who is in virtually every scene of the trailers.
He is also the one with the catchphrase 'Why so serious?' which is being busily printed on toys, T-shirts and lunch-boxes. Merchandising alone is set to make a further £30 million at least.
There is a 'good' commercial reason for Ledger's prominence: it emerges that licensing deals were signed prior to Ledger's death, and he had taken part in photo shoots in character which have permitted the manufacture of a huge range of items.
At the moment, they are at a premium: one retailer is offering a Joker action figure for a princely £45; the thinking is that they are collector's items of the future. rather decided emphasis. I think they are right to do so because it is a fantastic performance; it is the best thing in the film.'
Sources at  Warners indicate that this did play on the minds of executives considering how to sell the film: if they backed away from Ledger, there was a worry that a black market trading in now-forbidden items would spring up.
'The fear was that the pirates would come out of the woodwork and then it's completely out of control,' said one executive.
The dilemma is not without precedent as Ledger is not, of course, the first star to die while working on a film. Robert Shaw, Natalie Wood and Jean Harlow all did. Peter Finch won an Oscar for Network following his death.
But it is a uniquely tricky situation as The Dark Knight is such a mass-market blockbuster.
'It's not an enviable position,' said Farrah Louviere, the former manager of worldwide promotions at Warner Bros who now works for the marketing agency Davie-Brown Entertainment. She says it is no surprise that Warners are pushing Ledger so hard.
Heath Ledger
Happier times: Ledger with his former fiancee Michelle Williams in 2006

'How do you take a character who's central to the entire plot of the film and pretend that he doesn't exist? I don't know how you do that and effectively market anything.
'I think it would have been a little more dark and a little harder for fans to grasp if his presence and his name were just overlooked in an attempt to be overly sensitive,' she said.
Leo Barraclough, of the entertainment trade magazine Variety, says: 'Warners seem to have gone back to that initial marketing plan with a rather decided emphasis.
'I think they are right to do so because it is a fantastic performance; it is the best thing in the film.'
And it must be conceded that the critics all agree that Ledger's performance is astonishing: a career-defining tour de force which is a world away from the camp sophistication of Jack Nicholson in the 1989 film.
'Ledger is so terrifying and unpredictable that his very presence on screen makes you horribly nervous,' one wrote. 'He preys on our fear and our sense of violation.'
Another observed: 'Ledger's work here is nothing short of revelatory  -  he takes the Joker beyond caricature of lore and portrays him as a psychotic criminal cipher.'
Every critic who has seen the film believes a posthumous Oscar nomination is a certainty. Both Michael Caine, who stars in the film, and its British director, , said at the New York premiere earlier this week that they believed he deserves to win.
Caine, who plays Batman's butler, said that he was so unnerved by the intensity of Ledger's performance that it sometimes made him forget his lines.
Ledger certainly was proud of what turned out to be his penultimate screen performance (he was filming Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium Of Dr Parnassus when he died.) He said his Joker was 'a psychopathic, mass-murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy'.
Christopher Nolan
Director: believes Ledger deserves an Oscar
He desperately wanted the part. He had his agent contact as soon as he found out that the Joker was in the film, to say Ledger already knew how he wanted to play the role.
Nolan said: 'If there was anything surprising about him, maybe it was how easy he was to work with. Because he was somebody who put so much into his performances I was a little worried he might take himself very seriously and all the rest. Yet he didn't. He was very warm and fun to have around  -  a great collaborator.'
Ledger drew on the 1971 film A Clockwork Orange for inspiration, and is said to have spent a month alone in a hotel room working on his character and voice.
Long before he died, his performance was being touted as his greatest. Who knows for certain what effect it had on him?
It is true that after filming, he complained of chronic insomnia, sleeping only two hours a night. He also seems to have got into the habit of knocking back prescription sleeping tablets.
Come January, those filming with him in London noticed he was physically in a very poor way. He died on January 22 in a New York apartment, having returned there for a break from filming.
An autopsy concluded that he had taken two different sorts of sleeping pill, two types of downer and two very heavy duty prescription painkillers. Death was ruled accidental, and caused by his 'acute intoxication'.
Ledger's family seized upon this finding as evidence that it was the combination of pills that had proved fatal.
They came en masse to the premiere in New York as a way of showing they are proud with the way that his final performance is assuming centre stage.

Ledger death
Final act: New York City Police carry the body of Ledger from his apartment in New York
Co-star Christian Bale, who plays Batman, said: 'I know there are a lot of people out there who don't think this film should be shown.
'But if you're asking my opinion, I think that's bloody insane. I also think it's an insult to Heath and everything he stood for. I don't think anything should be cut  -  I think it's the film he wanted to make.
'The guy was brilliant. He was a fantastic actor and he put everything into this part. I absolutely know without question that he would have wanted everyone to see it.
'This is a celebration of what he did best  -  entertain people. Why would any actor not want that to be appreciated? I know he would have. The bottom line is it would be totally rude not to. Respect the man. This is what he did. This is what he wanted to do.'
Certainly, the Joker casts a long shadow. Warner Bros president Alan Horn said at the U.S. premiere that the event was ' somewhat bittersweet, because Heath Ledger is amazing as the Joker'.
He continued: 'I don't want to weigh it down with that, though. It's about the job that Chris Nolan and Christian Bale did too. There's an odd alchemy to this process  -  it's very difficult to get this sort of crescendo of quality, and we have that here.'
But Variety's Leo Barraclough says: 'Knowing what happened, you are left with a doubt about whether Heath Ledger was disturbed. It's impossible to say.
'The point is that he is so convincing as this psychotic force. The cruel dilemma for Warners is that the hottest actor in their film happens to be dead.'
THE DARK KNIGHT is released in cinemas nationwide next Friday (July 25).

Catch Me If You Can! Leonardo DiCaprio dethrones Johnny Depp as Hollywood's highest paid actor

It seems Wonderland's Mad Hatter is no match for Inception's daring dream invasion specialist Dom Cobb.
Leonardo DiCaprio's role in 's mind-bending science fiction flick helped him dethrone Alice In Wonderland star Johnny Depp on the list of Hollywood's highest paid actors.
Inceptional box office performance: Leonardo DiCaprio has good reason to smirk after it emerged today he topped Forbes magazine's list of top-earning actors after walking away with $77 million
Inceptional box office performance: Leonardo DiCaprio has good reason to smirk after it emerged today he topped Forbes magazine's list of top-earning actors after walking away with $77 million
The Catch Me If You Can actor earned $77m in 2010 to claim the top spot on the Forbes magazine list for the very first time in his career.
However there was bad news for the UK, as not a single British actor secured a place in the top-ten.
DiCaprio's bumper 2010 payday come from the success of his films Inception and Shutter Island which took over more than $1.1 billion at the worldwide box office combined.
Nolan's Oscar-winning hit earned more than $825 million, while Shutter Island pulled in just short of $300 million.
As well as earning more than $15m for each picture he picked up a slice of the profits, according to Forbes magazine in their annual review of salaries.
DiCaprio,36, who is dating actress Blake Lively following his split with model Bar Refaeli, earned almost twice as much as Angelina Jolie and Sarah Jessica Parker.
They tied for first place in the Forbes list of Hollywood top earning female stars published last month.
Last year's table topper Depp was knocked down to second place with earnings of $50m, despite starring in the year's second biggest box office success Alice In Wonderland, which pulled in $1.024 billion.
His turn in the critically derided The Tourist was no match for DiCaprio's crowd-pleasing double.
Hatter boy: Johnny Depp has no reason to be down in the dumps as he still earned a whopping $50 million despite losing his top spot
Hatter boy: Johnny Depp has no reason to be down in the dumps as he still earned a whopping $50 million despite losing his top spot
Sand in your face: Adam Sandler has bragging rights over Will Smith after beating him off for third place in the list of wealthy actors
Sand in your face: Adam Sandler has bragging rights over Will Smith after beating him off for third place in the list of wealthy actors
Will he be pleased? Superstar Smith will be hoping to place even higher on next year's list after falling behind funnyman Sandler
Will he be pleased? Superstar Smith will be hoping to place even higher on next year's list after falling behind funnyman Sandler
However he may soon make a return to the top spot, as his reprisal of the role of Captain Jack Sparrow in the fourth Pirates Of The Caribbean movie helped it become billion dollar busting box office success.
Adam Sandler was third on the list with an estimated $40 million in wages. His most recent film Grown Ups was his most successful with over $250m at the box office.
Forbes based their figures from talking with agents, lawyers, producers and other industry insiders.
Corn from the Hobb: Leonardo's leading role in Christopher Nolan's Oscar-winning hit Inception was the main reason he took the top spot
Corn from the Hobb: Leonardo's leading role in 's Oscar-winning hit Inception was the main reason he took the top spot

How much? No doubt DiCaprio's Shutter Island co-star Mark Ruffalo will be envious when he hears how much he coined in
How much? No doubt DiCaprio's Shutter Island co-star Mark Ruffalo will be envious when he hears how much he coined in
The sums earned by the Hollywood stars are for the period between May 2010 and May 2011 and do not include payments to management and agent fees.
Will Smith makes fourth on the list thanks in part to his soon to be released Men in Black 3.
He is said to have been paid $36m to reprise his role as an alien hunting special agent.
Hanky panky: Tom Hanks has been a naughty boy after making a fortune despite starring in flop Larry Crowne
Hanky panky: Tom Hanks has been a naughty boy after making a fortune despite starring in flop Larry Crowne
Stiller big star: Ben had plenty of box office appeal due to his turn as Gaylord Focker and has the cash to prove it
Stiller big star: Ben had plenty of box office appeal due to his turn as Gaylord Focker and has the cash to prove it
Superhero earnings: Robert Downie Jr was rewarded with a stack of cash for thrilling fans in Iron Man 2
Superhero earnings: Robert Downie Jr was rewarded with a stack of cash for thrilling fans in Iron Man 2
Tom Hanks, who had the biggest flop of his career with the recently released Larry Crowne, is fifth among the highest paid.
As director, writer and star of the romantic comedy with Julia Roberts his earnings were $35m in 2010 and he has a starring role in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,co-starring Sandra Bullock.
Ben Stiller has Gaylord Focker to thank for making sixth on the list with $34m, while the success of the Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes films means Robert Downey Jr is seventh with earnings of $31m.
Fighter's purse: Mark Wahlberg's turn as boxer Micky Ward earned him a funky stash of cash
Fighter's purse: Mark Wahlberg's turn as boxer Micky Ward earned him a funky stash of cash
Beyond wealthy: Tim Allen's role as Buzz Lightyear helped his bank balance reach stratospheric levels
Beyond wealthy: Tim Allen's role as Buzz Lightyear helped his bank balance become infinitely bigger
Cruise a lucky boy: It had seemed an impossible mission for superstar Tom to get back on the list
Cruise a lucky boy: It had seemed an impossible mission for superstar Tom to get back on the list
Former Funky Bunch frontman Mark Wahlberg made the eight spot due to his turn in the Oscar winning The Fighter, with annual earnings of $28m.
Tim Allen earned a staggering $22m from voicing the role of Buzz Lightyear in the year's biggest box office success Toy Story 3 to be placed ninth.
Tom Cruise makes the top ten with $22m from his role in the latest in the Mission:Impossible series.
Unfortunately Daniel Radcliffe, the only British star to make the top ten in recent years, dropped out following the completion of the final Harry Potter film.
No Potter gold: Daniel Radcliffe dropped off the list after not making enough cash from JK Rowling's blockbuster series
No Potter gold: Daniel Radcliffe dropped off the list after not making enough cash from JK Rowling's blockbuster series

Batman director's brother on murder charge over killing of businessman in Costa Rica

 The brother of the British director of last year’s Batman film The Dark Knight has been arrested on suspicion of murder.
London-born Matthew Nolan, 40, whose younger brother Christopher directed the blockbuster which took more than £300million worldwide, was arrested in Chicago by the FBI last week in connection with a killing in 2005.
Nolan is accused of murdering Florida businessman Robert Cohen in Costa Rica.
According to reports, Nolan and alleged accomplice Douglas Mejia went to Costa Rica to try to reclaim a £5million debt Mr Cohen owed to another businessman.
Nolan is charged with Mr Cohen’s kidnap and murder.
Christopher Nolan
Christian Bale pictured as Batman
Dark Knight:   (left) directed Christian Bale as Batman . His younger brother Matthew faces a murder charge
He was being investigated by Chicago Police for an alleged £400,000 cheque fraud scam when they learned the FBI were seeking him for the Costa Rica murder.
Mejia was arrested shortly after the body of Cohen was discovered and convicted of the murder during a 2006 trial in Costa Rica, but Nolan allegedly fled back to the US.
A spokesman for Chicago Police said last night: ‘Matthew Francis Nolan has been arrested on a charge of first-degree murder and is being held without bail. He is now in jail awaiting extradition proceedings against him by Costa Rican authorities.’
Nolan’s brother Christopher, 38, is one of Hollywood’s most successful directors.
The Dark Knight was the highest-grossing film of last year and earned a posthumous Oscar for Heath Ledger as The Joker.
Nolan also directed the cult hit Memento and the earlier Batman film, Batman Begins, in 2005.
He is currently shooting the sci-fi thriller Inception with Leonardo DiCaprio.
A third brother, Jonathan, is an Oscar-nominated screenwriter.


It Came From Kuchar Review(2009)

It Came From Kuchar (2009) dir. Jennifer M. Kroot
Starring: George Kuchar, Mike Kuchar, John Waters, Bill Griffith, Buck Henry, B. Ruby Rich, Wayne Wang, Guy Maddin, Christopher Coppola and Atom Egoyan.

Over the years, whenever I have asked young filmmakers whose work they adore, and more importantly, what work they find especially cool, I always get the same pathetic responses: Christopher ("One Idea") Nolan, Wes ("Geek Chic") Anderson, Quentin ("I finally made a genuinely Great movie") Tarantino, Noah ("My generation is so downtrodden") Baumbaugh and, God Help Us, George ("I used to make cool movies before Star Wars") Lucas.

On rare occasions, I breathe a sigh of relief when someone mentions David Lynch.

However, when I mention the likes of Alejandro Jodorowsky, John Waters, The Brothers Quay, Jan Svankmajer, Ulrich Seidl or Doris Wishman, their faces become as blank as a white sheet of paper. More disturbing to me, though, is that when I mention the Kuchar Brothers (George and Mike), their faces seem to dissipate into some sort of optical effect of nothingness that reminds me of Claude Rains transforming into "The Invisible Man".

This was and is truly depressing.


The answer is simple: The Kuchar Brothers are as important to cinema as any genius iconoclasts like Dovzhenko, Eisenstein, Welles, Corman, Altman, Bergman and among others, yes, even Quentin Tarantino (post "Pulp Fiction").

And guess what? The Kuchars aren't only important, they're cool.

And Thank Christ Almighty, someone has finally enshrined these cool cats in a feature length tribute worthy of their status.

"It Came From Kuchar" is a finely honed and entertaining documentary that also carries with it a considerable degree of import to burgeoning filmmakers as well as cineastes. Some documentaries are important for content, some for form, and yet others for both. The fact that this documentary focuses so winningly upon their work, their influence and their personal lives is enough to make it a must-see motion picture.

I'd even argue that cinephiles aren't the only people who might derive considerable pleasure from this picture - by so clearly introducing the movies and the men behind the movies, there's a considerable chance (if they get an opportunity to see the doc) that even some relatively "normal" audiences may want to see the Kuchar pictures.

Such is the filmmaking dexterity of the doc's director Jennifer M. Kroot. Granted, she is one of the converted - she was, after all George Kuchar's student at the San Francisco Art institute where he became her mentor, but she goes out of her way to paint both a loving portrait and a movie with a strong narrative arc that draws audiences magnetically to its subjects.

The first portion of the movie simply, seamlessly and amusingly places the Kuchars within the context of 20th century cinema. First and foremost, we get a sense of their place as filmmakers with a series of introductory interviews with the likes of Buck Henry, Atom Egoyan, John Waters and Guy Maddin - interviews that are laudatory, to say the least. We get a nice taste of the whole underground cinema scene of the 60s and most importantly, we get a strong sense of what influenced the Kuchars.

Mike Kuchar talks about how they adored going to the movies in the 50s and he describes movie theatres as "temples" which, of course, they were. This was long before the age of the multiplex - where one could be sitting in a packed-to-the-rafters picture palace (many of which boasted thousands of seats). The movies the Kuchars adored were garishly colour-dappled melodramas by the likes of Douglas Sirk or such overblown Hollywood star turns like "Butterfield 8" with Liz Taylor.

Kroot also wisely focuses on introducing us to the underground cinema scene of the early 60s where in contrast to the picture palaces, young hipsters went to tiny hole-in-the-wall joints like The Bridge in New York City to groove on ultra low budget experimental works. Many of the projects were super cerebral and contrasted the narrative qualities and huge entertainment value inherent in the works of the

I especially love the simple, direct way doc director Kroot juxtaposes the films of the
with the blockbuster soap operatic features they loved. Seeing samples of such works as "The Craven Sluck" or "The Devil's Cleavage" up against their loftier influences such as "Imitation of Life" and "Butterfield 8" respectively displays how much they loved movies. This for me, is one of the things I personally always loved about the Kuchars - their almost slavish devotion to motion pictures, yet placed within the context of worship.

The Kuchars were funny, but their renderings of the likes of Liz Taylor did not, for me, fall into the often despicable form of spoof or even parody - the pictures they made had a satiric edge wherein they overplayed the conventions of melodramatic mainstream cinema, yet did so not to mock the cinema itself, but to expose innumerable truths found in everyday human behaviour and relationships.

What is so astounding about the work of the Kuchar Brothers is that for all the lurid details, the shock value, the intensely overblown melodrama, the cult-ish qualities, these movies are so uniquely personal that they are often extremely moving. One alternates between laughing and crying - and sometimes, both laughter and tears mingle with a force that one seldom sees in the cinema.

One of the few relatively contemporary films that manages to do this is David Lynch's "Eraserhead" which, in spite (or because) of the nightmare qualities brings us smack into the narrative wall that is inescapable - that this is ultimately the harrowing portrait of a single parent struggling with a sick child.

The Kuchars, however, manage to do this magical blend of the grotesque and heartbreakingly emotional truths again and again and again.

These guys are true Masters.

These guys are the real thing!

And certainly, one the things I love about this documentary is seeing and hearing how the Kuchar Brothers' love of melodrama created their own unique work, which in turn, inspired the next generation of filmmakers. When I hear Guy Maddin waxing eloquently about George's use of makeup - especially on women - wherein their eyebrows are ludicrously inflated to look like "chocolate bars", I can only smile and recall Guy's own unflagging boldness in applying raccoon-eye styled makeup on all his female characters. Guy also cites the "aggressively stylized voices" of the actors, I can only think of the same voice style employed by John Waters and even Guy himself, though in his repressed, muted fashion.

were born in New York City at Bellevue Hospital, which as George notes in the doc, is known as the hospital where 50s/60s heart-throb Tab Hunter was also born, and most notably as a hospital devoted to treating the insane. A few years later, the Kuchar family moved to the Bronx - a neighbourhood of blasted-out empty buildings and endless vacant lots. This is where George and Mike (twins, though neither knows if they are identical or fraternal) really discovered themselves. They loved the Bronx and using their bountiful imaginations, they turned this seemingly grotesque world of the abandoned into a veritable paradise - Disneyland for the sons of working class Eastern Europeans.

Their Dad was a handsome, rough and tough truck driver of Hungarian descent and Mom was a gentle, supportive book binder of Ukrainian descent. Dad had an eye for the ladies, or as George says in the doc, he was "very carnal". This resulted in continual friction, but the boys dismiss it as typical family squabbling. I especially was fond of George's recollections of how his own Dad eventually came around to partially accepting their love of filmmaking when the boys started putting lots of nudity in the work. Dad, as it turns out, was an avid collector of "Red Reels" (8mm porno films for home consumption) and he avidly encouraged the boys. Gotta love it when fathers and sons find common ground. That said, George drew a line at refusing his Dad's request for some private porn requests.

Very few stones are left unturned in Kroot's documentary. We get generous footage and background on George's work as a film professor and mentor at the San Francisco Art Institute, a tremendously moving section on George's creative and romantic relationship with the late filmmaker Curt McDowell, some wonderful early recollections on George and Mike's career as graphic artists on Madison Avenue (yikes!) as well as George's friendship with Art Spiegelman and Bill Griffiths that led to his work as a cartoonist in Arcade and Bill Griffiths's astounding revelation that Zippy the Pinhead was partially inspired by George. Mike's illustrations of gay porno comic books, George's incredible Weather Diaries, the brothers' devotion to caring for their aging (now deceased) Mother and even the differences in approach to storytelling when the brothers work apart are all on the table.

It's all fascinating material.

And while the wealth of information in this movie is staggering, it NEVER feels like everything but the kitchen sink. Each piece of information, each recollection, each clip, each interview, each piece of the puzzle that is the Kuchar Brothers is meticulously placed and honed to move the story forward in an entertaining and informative fashion.

Most importantly, we are blessed with George Kuchar's secret to providing the exquisite turds on display in so many of his movies.

My life is now complete.

"It Came From Kuchar" begins a limited run in Toronto at the fabulous rep cinema The Bloor and can also be seen in festival and other special screenings all over the world.

LeBron James – New Wallpapers (44 Pictures)

Minority Report

Minority Report (2002) dir.
Starring: Tom Cruise, Max Von Sydow, Samantha Morton, Colin Farrell, Peter Stormare, Tim Blake Nelson


By Alan Bacchus

Oh what promise... I remember the excitement this combination of story, star, genre and director conjured up when first announced. doing a pure sci-fi action picture with then respectable, pre-couch jumping Tom Cruise, from a story by high concept master Philip K. Dick. Unfortunately Spielberg’s inability to edit himself results in a needlessly engorged and extended movie which goes on half an hour too long.

For two thirds it’s a marvellously executed genre-film. John Anderton (Tom Cruise) as a near future cop who leads a team of pre-cognition crime solvers who use a trio of soothsaying human vegetables to predict murders before they happen. Using images retained from these fractured memories and a pretty darn cool interactive editing system John becomes a 21st century sleuth. But when precogs predict the next murder to be committed by Anderton himself, it’s the hunter being hunted. The chase is on, with a number of thrilling set pieces pushing the film forward toward its overly twisty glorified whodunit mystery.

‘Minority Report’ succeeds a technical exercise and an excuse for Spielberg to craft a number of creative and visually stunning set pieces. None better than the opening scene when we see John execute his skills at cyber sleuthing, running, chase, tackling. Spielberg’s uses some familiar Hitchcockian cinema techniques to ratchet up the suspense of whether John can make it time to save a cheating housewife and her lover from getting knifed to death by her vengeful husband.

When John finds himself on the run, Spielberg engineers at least two more stunning action sequences. One, a very long running and car chase which has John fighting off his old colleagues zipping around in jet packs and ending in a fist fight in a robotically controlled automotive plant. The other features John getting an eye transplant at the hands of a seedy underground doctor played memorably by Peter Stormare and then being tracked by a group of robots spider sentries.

Unfortunately everything else in between these scenes creatively dull and tedious. Virtually all of the dialogue is information and exposition about who is who and what the fancy gadgets do what. Colin Farrell’s presence as a devout internal affairs wonk who is morally opposed to the procedure of imprisoning people before they commit crimes engages in some interesting existential discourse, but under the blockhead writing and Spielberg’s hurried direction, these themes are conveyed to us with zero subtlety.

The actors talk as wooden as their dialogue. Max Von Sydow, assuming the slippery and thus evil European bigwig role is just awful. Tim Blake Nelson who plays the quirky archivist is robotic and just plain creepy for no good reason. Lois Smith as the elderly woman who created the precognition system has only exposition to spew out and has much trouble masking this dubious narrative purpose.

If the movie ended squarely on that one hour and 45min mark when John discovers he is indeed the murderer he didn’t think he could be, Spielberg would have had a perfect ending. Killing Leo Crow not only puts the film and its lead on a precarious moral tightrope, it hits home the dark sci-fi cynicism which makes Dick’s material so thought-provoking. But Spielberg lets everyone off the hook and neutralizing this moment with another twist which sends the film in a completely different direction. The revenge of John’s son’s death represents the highest emotional gravitas for the lead character, and so when it’s revealed this as a red herring for a considerably lesser significant betrayal by John’s boss for political reasons, it’s a buzzkill of monumental proportions.

The final 30 mins involves so much catch-up, backtracking, and exposition it’s a strain for everybody involved to keep up. And by the end, a good film is wasted by Spielberg’s inability to say cut, print, call it a day.

‘Minority Report’ is available on Blu-Ray from Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment.


Elephant (2003) dir.
Starring: Alex Frost, Eric Deulen, John Robinson, Timothy Bottoms, Elias McConnell


By Alan Bacchus

Like Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, in Elephant magnificently manages to create great art out of great tragedy. Indeed, both works of art are comparable. From the bombing of the city of Guernica in the Spanish Civil War, Picasso rendered his most recognizable painting. For , his inspiration for Elephant, his universally celebrated Palme D’Or-winning film, was a reaction to the Columbine school shooting – a seminal event in recent US history. Years from now when we look back on his career, this might be his crowning achievement.

Van Sant’s determined minimalist style is so very deceptive and wholly cinematic. It’s cinematic in the sense that the languid and quiet pace creates an eerie tension. This serves to establish realism and makes us believe that the high school and students depicted in the film could actually exist – a high school with nameless, faceless kids free of all preconceived notions of a movie ‘high school’. But it also establishes a sense of boredom, which disarms the viewer to the inhumane tragedy about to unfold.

The film is a technical touchstone of cinematic technique. Harris Savides’ steadycam achieves some rather unique accomplishments, moving both inside and outside the school with complete unity in the lighting and depth of field. Whether or not you notice this specifically, the fluidity of the camera that creates a feeling of elegant motion is front and centre. The visual design of placing his characters in the centre of the frame moving through hallways might even connect, whether purposefully or subliminally, with the point of view in which computer games are played by the two killers in the film. Or maybe Van Sant intended to echo the eerily cold feeling of the overlook hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.

Look closely to follow the shifting point of view. In mid-shot, Van Sant often moves from a tracking shot following a character to a reaction shot of other characters looking down the barrel of the camera. This occurs specifically when the handsome jock turns the heads of the nattering bulimic girls in the hallway.

If there’s a false note in the film it’s the depiction of Alex and Eric as emotionless stone cold killers. When the film switches to their stories, he’s clear to show their inane and confounding activities prior to the carnage, including their planning process, executed without an ounce of remorse or self-doubt, or an acknowledgement of their fate. There’s also the gay shower scene, which creates even more confusion and questions. Regardless of how the Columbine killers conducted themselves before their rampage, their detachment from reality is frightfully terrifying.

The massacre scene that fills the third act admirably does not sensationalize the murders. The depiction of death and the often confusing actions of some of the kids just before death feel so utterly real. Benny, for instance, skulks around the school like a brainless zombie thinking he’s immune to the killers’ weaponry. And his death, so undramatic and thoughtless, is difficult to comprehend or make sense of, yet it makes sense given the way Van Sant plays out Benny’s movements.

That said, Elephant is not meant to make sense of any aspect of this tragedy, other than, like Guernica, an abstract instinctive visceral reaction from the soul of an artist.


Wednesday Hump Dump 2

Winter Light (1963)

While I’m not a big fan of Ingmar Bergman’s work, I’ve always been fascinated by . Returning to it again, I still find myself struggling with Bergman’s style, but the material of this film is so provoking and so good that, too a degree, I’m able to look past some of my difficulties with Bergman’s style in order to engage in the fantastic conversation Bergman enters into through the idea of the silence of God.
Thomas Ericsson (Gunnar Björnstrand), pastor of a small church in a smaller town, finds himself plagued with spiritual doubt and despair. It makes his attempt to console a local man, Jonas Persson (Max von Sydow), thinly veiled attempts to work out his own issues. Compounding all this is the affections of Märta Lundberg (Ingrid Thulin), an atheist and schoolteacher who’s deeply in love with Tomas and constantly dotes on him even as he broods.

It’s the relationship between Märta and Tomas that sustains most of the film as both are desperately caught up in this desire for love in a loveless life. Yet both are looking in difference places. Tomas looks to the divine, but finds himself distraught over the silence of God while Märta hopes to find it in Tomas, a man who is her opposite in so many ways her affections seemed doomed from the onset.
While the silence of God is the obvious thematic crux of the film and there are some compelling conversations that flesh out the argument, it’s the lack of love that continues to compel me. It makes me think about a passage in the Bible that’s extremely apt: “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” from James 2:17. Tomas throughout the film never once shows a true work of love and as a result it is seen that his faith is completely dead. He can go through the motions, hold the sacraments, but he cannot escape his dead faith.

Gunnar Björnstrand’s fantastic performance does a great job at conveying the spiritual anguish and self-absorption that consumes Tomas. He spends so much time brooding in self-reflection and becomes so caught up in his own affairs that he begins to emotionally implode. In moments where one expects a pastor to convey empathy or love, one is only left with Gunnar’s soulless gaze.
Where I take umbrage with the film is Bergman’s stifling visual formalism. This does create a more introspective aesthetic which makes for some fantastic and bold images, but I find it becomes suffocating and limiting after a while, almost constructed to a fault as there’s this constant awareness of precise composition. Therefore, Bergman’s aesthetic becomes anti-naturalism and begins to intrude against the immersion into the narrative and characters.

The film builds to this great ending where finally a voice of insight pierces through this shroud of doubt and darkness. An unlikely character makes a deep insight that speaks directly to Tomas’ struggle. Instead of Bergman using this point as a place for character resolution, it’s simply a provoking thought which bridges into the closing moments of the film.

Adele – Awesome Star (105 Pictures)